Michael Jackson fans prepare for death anniversary
LOS ANGELES - AFP
On Hollywood's Walk of Fame, the singer's star continues to draw a constant scrum of selfie-snapping tourists, while nearby souvenir shops, street performers and even tattoo parlors report a brisk trade in all things Jackson.
Across the street at Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum, a statue of the singer is strategically perched above the box office to entice tourists. Staff at Madame Tussauds say Jackson's waxwork remains a top draw.
Yet according to the groundbreaking HBO documentary "Leaving Neverland," released earlier this year, it was just a few hours' drive from the heart of Hollywood that Jackson used his celebrity and glamor to molest young boys at his fairytale-themed ranch.
While most fans who were aware of the documentary, the adoration fostered from growing up with the "Thriller" megastar's many hits supersedes all else.
"I came here actually only for him. I don't take pictures with any other star," said Dutch tourist Hooman Nazemi.
"Some stuff that they were saying in the doc was kind of hard, but you cannot say 100 percent it's true ... I just love him. I love him and I think everybody does."
Antoine Baynes, 31, a Jackson impersonator who moonwalks along Hollywood Boulevard for tourists' tips, said the allegations had done nothing to diminish his performances' appeal, in fact, the opposite.
"After the HBO special came out I received just as much if not more attention than before. It kinda gave it publicity," he said.
"Honestly I've married people as Michael Jackson. I have two weddings to do this Sunday, to do as Michael Jackson!" The claims in the HBO documentary by two men who say Jackson sexually abused them for years as minors were not the first, but reignited the scandal after the star's fatal overdose at age 50 in 2009.
In his lifetime, Jackson denied all child sex allegations and his estate filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO for "posthumous character assassination."
Today, the anniversary of Jackson's passing, die-hard fans from around the world have planned an "MJ Innocent Love Rally" through Hollywood to gather at his star on the sidewalk.
Other events include a "zombie dance" on Venice Beach and screenings of fan-made tribute films.
Those who cannot attend are invited to donate money for an annual ceremony placing roses by Jackson's grave in the nearby Forest Lawn cemetery. Organizers did not respond to a request for comment, but claim on Twitter that a record of more than 18,000 roses have been bought this year.
Yet numbers signing up to the events' Facebook pages are conspicuously low, and pro-Jackson message boards are rife with complaints about the lack of mainstream enthusiasm for anniversary events this year.
If the controversy has dampened commemorations -- with Variety reporting that TV networks and producers have pulled the plug on long-planned anniversary programs -- Jackson's commercial clout remains substantial.
T-shirts, keyrings and coasters bearing the singer's likeness remain on prominent display at Hollywood tourist stores lining the boulevard, outnumbered only by images of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.
Of a dozen such shops, only one had removed Jackson memorabilia from its shelves, citing a decline in interest. And for some die-hard fans, a throwaway souvenir just won't cut it.
"We get people asking for the silhouette, with the hat, sometimes his signature," said tattoo artist John Lopez.
"Maybe five or six each year. It's no different this year."